- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 18, 2005

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Virginia Mayo, the blond actress who brought beauty and romance to films of the 1940s and 1950s with such co-stars as James Cagney, Bob Hope, Gregory Peck, Danny Kaye and Ronald Reagan, died yesterday at a nursing home in Thousand Oaks, Calif.

She was 84.

Mrs. Mayo had been in declining health since battling pneumonia about a year ago, her daughter, Mary Johnston, said.

Her honey-blond hair and creamy, flawless face made Mrs. Mayo ideal for the Technicolor musicals, Westerns and adventures that were the rage in Hollywood in the 1940s and ‘50s.

“I really wanted to be a dancer, but I ended up as an actress, and I got to perform next to some of the greatest actors of our time,” she recalled in 2001.

Starting as a chorus girl, she quickly advanced to co-star status, appearing opposite Mr. Hope in “The Princess and the Pirate” in 1944. She went on to make five films with Mr. Kaye before signing a contract with Warner Bros., where she became one of the studio’s biggest stars.

When she signed the contract, Warner Bros. issued an effusive press release that concluded: “At 115 pounds, she is potentially as valuable as an acre of land in downtown Los Angeles — and at least several times more desirable.”

“She was beautiful in pictures, but she was even more beautiful in person,” said Mary Walsh, a longtime friend of Mrs. Mayo and the wife of director Raoul Walsh, who made three pictures with her. “I guess maybe it was because she was so good inside.”

Mrs. Mayo distinguished herself in two classic movies. In the 1946 Oscar-winner “The Best Years of Our Lives,” she played the cheating sweetheart of a returning World War II veteran. In Mr. Walsh’s “White Heat” in 1949, she was the neglected wife of the psychotic gangster played by Mr. Cagney.

Born Virginia Clara Jones in St. Louis on Nov. 30, 1920, Mrs. Mayo took her stage name from Andy Mayo, the boss of a vaudeville act where she worked when she was young.

She married actor Michael O’Shea in 1947 and remained single after his 1973 death. She is survived by her daughter and three grandchildren.

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